The classroom backstage

Published 6:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

“It’s all about the kids.”

There is no pretense in that statement when it comes from Ricki or Sheri McKee. All you have to do is follow one of them around to see what they mean.

For the husband and wife teaching duo’s combined 71 years in education (36 for him, 35 for her), the key to discipline in the classroom is getting to know students outside the classroom.

“There’s always been something we’ve done with kids extracurricular…because you get to know them,” Mrs. McKee said. “That’s our social life. That’s always been our dates.”

She organized a math team at Jemison High School, where she taught for 10 years. Then it was the prom, the junior class play, the Student Government Association — the last of which she started upon transferring to Chilton County High School in 1984.

He has been at CCHS for the entire 36 years.

“It was a big help when she moved to Clanton,” Mr. McKee admits.

The McKees coordinate several events that teach students the values of helping others, like Special Olympics and the Christmas party for underprivileged children.

“Our kids learn a lot there,” Mr. McKee said. “They appreciate what they have more.”

The Christmas party not only provides gifts to children who wouldn’t otherwise receive a gift, but also allows the kids to give their parents something for Christmas. This is made possible through a “love gift pantry.”

“Those little kids love to give just as much as anyone else does,” Mrs. McKee said.

CCHS also hosts two annual blood drives for the American Red Cross.

To give an example of the impact these community efforts have on students, the McKees recalled a former SGA student who went to Auburn University and helped start a blood drive and Christmas party for underprivileged kids in that area.

“We teach them to understand that citizenship is about serving,” Mrs. McKee said.

Then there’s “Blast from the Past,” the annual school fundraiser in which students sing hit songs from decades past. The production, 17 years in running, draws a capacity crowd every year.

Although “Blast” has yielded many talented voices and at least one “American Idol” contestant, the stage presence, confidence and discipline students learn from performing benefits even those who do not pursue musical careers.

“We love what it does for the kids. We love to see them excel,” Mr. McKee says.

“Talent doesn’t know social groups,” she added, “so they end up in a very different mix.”

“Blast” shows are performed at the Peach Jam Jubilee every summer, at the Chilton County Fair in the fall, and for civic groups year-round.

One must admit, all that sounds like a lot of work. But consider the following statement from Mr. McKee:

“I wouldn’t take a million dollars for teaching at this school.”